Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan meets with CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha in Yerevan. (photo: president.am)
The head of Russia's post-Soviet military bloc has made his first-ever visit to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, checking on the readiness of Armenian troops there. The show of support was made just before Armenia was scheduled to sign an agreement to become a member of Russia's other big Eurasian integration project, the Eurasian Union.
But Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan took the occasion of the visit to criticize the bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, for failing to consistently support Armenia's interests in its conflict with Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh, which Armenian forces control but which de jure belongs to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan's government has repeatedly threatened to take back the territory by force, and Armenia's alliance with Russia and the CSTO is its strongest security guarantee.
"The president underscored that the positions of a number of CSTO partners on issues being of paramount importance to allies, particularly on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, expressed in different international platforms, do not correspond to the common spirit of the negotiation process, contradict the statements and proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as to the documents endorsed within the framework of the CSTO," Sargsyan's office said in a statement. "[Azerbaijan President] Ilham Aliyev’s bellicose and Armenophobic statements do not rouse a keen response among our CSTO partners which could have suppressed the adventurous desires of the Azeri leadership."
Sargsyan appeared to be referring to statements made by other CSTO members like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan in Turkic and Islamic fora supporting Azerbaijan's position on Karabakh. This is not the first time he has complained about this, but tying the complaints to Bordyuzha's visit was unusual and suggested that Yerevan was trying to elevate the issue.
Sargsyan's complaints may have been intended for a domestic audience as well, said Emil Sanamyan, editor of the newspaper Armenian Reporter. "My sense of this is that Russia is delaying certain weapons transfers to Armenia until the Eurasian Union is finalized," Sanamyan said in an email interview with The Bug Pit. "Since there is no real guarantee that delays wont continue post-membership, Sargsyan has become more vocal in his criticisms of arms sales to Azerbaijan and lack of CSTO reaction to violations on Armenia-Azerbaijan border." Public criticism during Bordyuzha's visit "keeps the issue on the agenda and protects Sargsyan domestically," he added.
Bordyuzha said the goal of his visit to the Azerbaijan border was to "prepare a report about the operational environment" there. Bordyuzha's visit was connected to "the growing tensions at the borders of the CSTO member states in the recent period, including the drastic aggravation of the situation along the Armenian-Azeri and the Nagorno-Karabakh-Azeri line of contact in August this year," Sargsyan's office's statement said. "Unfortunately, Azeri provocative actions in every possible way pose a threat to the fragile security system of the area under the CSTO responsibility."
Does all this portend a more active CSTO involvement in Karabakh? Is that connected with Yerevan's signing of the Eurasian Union agreement? Stay tuned.